For years now, the dairy alternative market has slowly inched its way onto their competitor’s turf. First, there was the launch of soy and almond milk, then pretty much every other nut you could think of. There were new non-dairy ice creams coming out every month, with even big brands like Ben and Jerry’s joining in on the fun. And most recently, nut-based cheeses have made a huge splash, as has non-dairy yogurt.  Sure, these new launches were gaining traction and getting press elsewhere, but the dairy industry wasn’t going out of their way to shine light on the products. After all, up until now, despite having products in the same aisle, these two sectors were not exactly considered to be on the “same team.” Well, it seems that the times are a’ changin’ and the dairy industry is finally coming around and giving dairy-free products the recognition they deserve. The Dairy Reporter recently released their “Product Launch Round-Up,” a feature which highlights new, exciting products happening in the dairy aisle and guess who’s first on their list? Daiya Cheese Slices!

That’s right! Right alongside whey protein news and talk of expansions in the string cheese category, is a vegan cheese. The news itself is not that revolutionary – Daiya has reformulated their Provolone and Swiss cheese recipes and have an updated look to their packaging – but the fact that this non-dairy company is on the list at all is arguably the bigger news.

So, why has the dairy industry all of a sudden decided to give their non-dairy competitors some props? Well, the dairy world is finally connecting the dots, so to speak. They know that governments around the world, for both health and environmental reasons, are urging consumers to cut down on dairy intake, that the non-dairy alternative market is booming, and that dairy-free products may very well be the future of food, at least in this category.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the dairy industry will be halting their constant turnover of new products any time soon. They’re constantly gauging the public to see what they want. Savory yogurts? Full-fat milks? If the dairy industry sees an interest for it, they will do their best to supply it. That’s how this major food sector stays afloat.Well, they may have not been able to predict it a decade ago, but the fact of the matter is that now more than ever, consumers want dairy-free products. Whether it’s due to lactose intolerance, concerns over traditional milk’s antibiotic and hormone use, or a desire to be more environmentally sustainable, more consumers are ditching dairy and looking for alternatives that can replicate their favorite drinks and foods.

“U.S. milk consumption has been steadily declining by 25 percent per capita since the mid-1970s. Americans, on average, drink 37 percent less milk today than they did in 1970, according to data from the USDA,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder of One Green Planet. “The fact is, there is a whole new dairy-free market rising as one-third of consumers prefer dairy-free milks. Dairy-free milk sales represent a $2 billion category and growth is expected to continue outpacing dairy milk sales at least through 2018.  In addition, natural groceries saw annual sales of dairy-free cheese rise 22.7 percent in 2014 alone to $30 million – and dairy-free is also one of the fastest growing segments in yogurt and with eight percent dollar sales growth year over year, this segment is estimated to reach $2.9 billion by 2017.”

At the end of the day, the dairy industry is a business that will work tirelessly to stay relevant, even with a hundred obstacles in its way. Thankfully, even this industry realizes that consumer mindset is changing, the food landscape is evolving, and to stay relevant they will also have to. This means embracing the dairy-free market for what it is – an innovative industry that will most certainly play an important, and exciting, role in the future of food.

Image Source: Caprese Sandwich With Cashew Mozzarella